Teen Alcohol or Drug Abuse – Are Behavior Problems an Indication?

Growing up can be a difficult time for teenagers. With hormonal changes occurring, peer pressures and the need to fit in with their peer group, teens often have trouble coping. In order to manage the pressures involved with being a teenager some turn to drugs or alcohol as a crutch, or as a way to fit in and be accepted by their peer group. It is imperative that an adolescent using alcohol or drugs gets help as soon as possible. Knowing what to look for will assist parents in determining if a teen with behavior problems is indeed using alcohol or drugs.

Mood Changes

All teens can be moody. However, an adolescent that exhibits severe, erratic, frequent changes in mood could be a potential abuser. There are many things parents can look for as possible signs to help determine if their teenager’s behavior problems are a sign that they are using alcohol or drugs. Does your teen act more depressed then usual, have increasing lower self-esteem or act more violently then in the past? Is your child uncharacteristically picking fights at school or home? Is he overly sensitive? Is your teen giddy and excited one time you see him and down in the dumps the next? These are all prime examples of the type of mood swings an abuser will exhibit.

Being Overly Secretive

A teen that goes to great lengths to deceive her parents or hide personal items may have a substance abuse issue. Have you caught your teenager lying or stealing? If you notice money or items from your home missing, it’s time to take a closer look at your teen.

Having a shortage of cash when you know they should have money may mean the money is being used to buy drugs or alcohol. If your adolescent has unexplained excess cash, this may be a sign of dealing or theft.

Does she seem withdrawn and reticent? Does she retreat to her room as soon as she comes home? Is she late coming home with a constant stream of excuses that don’t seem plausible? Look for these as possible signs that your teen with behavior problems could possibly be using drugs or alcohol.

Physical Changes

Many teens using drugs or alcohol have a change in appearance. Their clothing style may change or they may look disheveled. Wearing long sleeves in summer may be a sign that the teen is trying to hid marks.

There may be unexplained weight loss or gain. Nose bleeds, red eyes, burns and sores are also physical signs of use. Does your child come home and act dizzy, intoxicated, clumsy or overly tired? Is your teen throwing up for no apparent reason and telling you that they must have ate something bad? Is he overly animated or excitable?

If your teenager comes home and acts unusual, take a closer look. Often, you can smell alcohol or marijuana if you know what to smell for. If your child seems like he just sprayed on cologne or comes home eating mints, this may indicate he is trying to hide alcohol or drug use.

Social Issues

A sudden change in friends or social circles may indicate trouble. Go with your instincts regarding friends. If you feel your teen’s friends are up to no good, they probably are and so is your teen. Is your teen hanging out with kids who are older, more independent or unsupervised? Is your teen hesitant to bring her friends home? If your child exhibits a sudden lack of motivation in school, an abnormal drop in her grades, starts getting into trouble more often or is showing poor judgment, there may be a problem.


Mood changes, being secretive, experimenting with clothing and hairstyles, making new friends and generally being rebellious can be evident in the most normal, well adjusted of teenagers from time to time. Remember that a teenager is trying to be independent and find his own way. Many teens with behavior problems are not using alcohol or drugs.

Teenagers make mistakes and they test boundaries. This is to be expected. However, if the behavior problems are constant, severe, long lasting or seems to have a negative impact on the teenager or family, it is more likely that there maybe more critical problems behind the behavior then typical childhood angst.

If, over time, your adolescent is repeatedly showing these behavioral signs, it is important to find out what is going on. Talk to your child, to his teachers, his friends and his friends’ parents. Early detection can help a teen overcome these issues, and prevent alcohol or drug use from becoming a life long addiction. As a parent, it is crucial to be aware of what is happening. Keep an eye on your teen with behavior problems and trust your instincts so you can nip problems in the bud. Doing so could ensure that your teen will have the best opportunity to lead a successful, happy life.